A well-graded dirt road leads down to Gibraltar Dam from Angostura Pass, providing access to this part of the Santa Ynez River canyon. North Tunnel Trail leads off the dirt road about three-fourths mile down, providing access to a number of loops in this area. Although it is a long climb back up the dirt road, this is a nice way to reach the swimming holes just above Red Rock.
To reach Angostura Pass, follow Gibraltar Road 6.5 miles to East Camino Cielo, then turn left and drive a mile west to Angostura Pass. The dirt road is on the right, leading six miles down to Gibraltar Reservoir.
Expectations for Riding the Front Country Trails
Country trails are multi-use trails and as such are used by several thousand users each week. If you are riding downhill on these trails, expect to encounter them on your way. Your cooperation will help make everyone's experience a safe and pleasant one.
Ten things every mountain biker who rides the front country trails is expected to do:
Angostura Pass Road provides entry into the upper Santa Ynez Valley from Santa Barbara, opening up a number of overnight possibilities, as well as the opportunity of combining trail and dirt-road riding in a day’s loop, complete with picnic, swimming, exploration, or fishing.
While the dirt road’s primary purpose is to service Gibraltar Reservoir, it provides an easily traveled path for those who would like to enjoy the beauty of a back country ride without the worry or bother of automobiles. For those who like single track, Matias Potrero and Devil’s Canyon will suit your tastes as well.
The road, which is smooth and well graded, winds gently downhill through the pass, then begins to cut across the backside of the Santa Ynez Mountains, in the process opening to expansive views of Little Pine and Big Pine mountains. The ride is leisurely, with some great downhill riding, and you can continue all the way down to the dam. If you go that far you’ll also have a lot of elevation gain on the way back.
Three-fourths mile down from Angostura Pass, North Tunnel Trail leads steeply down and to the left. It is marked with a small sign, so you need to look for it carefully. Several switchbacks drop you quickly down into the canyon and then you’ll work your way across the east side of the canyon to a saddle where the Matias Potrero/Devil’s Canyon intersections provide you with a choice of trails.
Devil’s Canyon Trail drops off to the right, cuts across a short saddle, and then drops almost directly east down grass-covered hills into the main canyon. Though the riding is mostly Level 2 single track in the upper half, it gets much more technical in the lower canyon. There are several creek crossings, most of which you’ll walk, but the canyon is so pretty you won’t mind at all. Another quarter-mile brings you to the reservoir road near the base of the dam.
From here it is a short, steep ride up to the top of the dam, where you’ll find a picnic table for lunch. To complete the loop, follow the dirt road back uphill six miles (and 2,000-foot gain) to Angostura Pass.
If you drop down to the river you’ll find the river trail leading down to Red Rock on the left bank. The first of many great pools are located just downstream, and you’ll enjoy lunch much more here than up by the dam. If you have a shuttle awaiting you at Red Rock or Lower Oso you can enjoy a full afternoon of splashing, sunning, and relaxing before the ride on down the canyon.
The Matias Potrero Trail continues straight ahead, cutting an additional four miles across the north side of the Santa Ynez Mountains. I’ve always like the Matias Potrero Trail because of the way it undulates across the lower foothills, winding in and out of small side canyons and around grassy knolls, providing great views of the far mountains and every so often the river canyon. Here and there you’ll find the trail a bit overgrown, but that’s the nature of the grasses; they are prolific. But this is offset by the ease of the climbs and the riding, which isn’t too difficult.
Eventually the trail intersects with Arroyo Burro Road. At the halfway point, near Matias Camp, a connector trail leads down to the Santa Ynez River near Live Oak picnic area, providing a convenient way to shorten your ride if need be. For a full day’s adventure you might consider leaving a shuttle car at Live Oak or Red Rock, eventually dropping down to the Santa Ynez River via one of these connectors. A dip in the large pool at Live Oak, followed by a barbecue, provides the perfect touch following this ride.
It is also possible to continue across the entire length of the Matias Potrero Trail, then ride back up Arroyo Burro Road to Camino Cielo and east to your car (you’d better be in good shape!).